I took both Greek and Hebrew when I was in Seminary. It was excruciating. It was liberating. Isn’t this the way of most things that matter?
Memorizing vocabulary. Studying gendered nouns. Learning to parse verbs. And translating. From Greek to English. From Hebrew to English. From unknown to…well…knowing even less. I was required to do every bit of it on my own; no resources or reference books allowed. It was hard. I wanted to open any one of the Bibles on my shelf to the assigned passages; to come up with the “answer” via the support of years of already-completed scholarship by people far smarter than me. Why was I reinventing the wheel? And frankly, why did I need to be able to translate in the first place? It already had been, right? What a waste of time and tuition dollars!
I might have continued this rant had it not been for the day I discovered one very important thing I learned along the way:
One small stroke (of ink) changes everything.
For centuries, people had the painstaking job of copying sacred text from tablets to scrolls, to more scrolls, to parchment, to pages, and to presses. And in the process they did their own translation, made their own assumptions, applied their own perspectives, and even made mistakes. Some priests, prophets, and kings; others scribes, calligraphers, and later, typesetters. As I followed the logic I realized that what I’d read hundreds of times before and taken as “gospel truth,” was the collaborative, accumulated, interpretive work of many. This text wasn’t sacrosanct, pure, and unaltered. It was touched by human hands, molded by human minds, and shaped by years of human story.
This was hardly disappointing. For me, it was good news (the real definition of “gospel). This was a text I could mess with, and allow to mess with me. This was a text I could love. Human. Real. Imperfect. And therefore, so much more true!
But there was something even more significant in this recognition: the realization that if others could make these interpretive decisions, then so could I.
One small stroke of ink changed the subject of the sentence. One small stroke of ink changed who was speaking or acting. One small stroke of ink changed a word entirely. One small stroke of ink turned context upside-down. And one small stroke of ink is all it took for me to become intoxicated with thousands upon thousands more.
Where I had felt bound by the Text itself; imprisoned within the proclaimed promises and restricting premises I’d known since childhood, I now had the intellect, capacity, and informed choice to find new and expansive meaning, a new and expansive God.
How does this apply to you? Why might you care? Why am I even telling you this? Because it’s highly possible that you walked away from this Text and even more, from this Text’s God, because it just wasn’t working for you; because it felt irrelevant; because it felt old and musty and impractical. It’s highly possible that your experience of this Text is one bound in the interpretive chains of centuries-old cultural realities, power dynamics, political agendas, and patriarchal systems. It’s highly possible that there is a Text to be found that will shock you, thrill you, free you, and maybe, just maybe offer you new and expansive meaning; a new and expansive God. And if that is possible, then it’s also possible that everything else could change as well.
All because of one small stroke (of ink).
This concept is not foreign to you. Consider a marriage license. With one small stroke of ink, everything changes. Meaning is ascribed. Permanence is assumed. Commitment and covenant are forged. This is significant. And, over time, one small stroke of ink does not a marriage make. It symbolizes something that changes, grows, aches, breaks, heals, ends, mends, survives, or not. You allow a marriage license to have meaning in and of itself, but with limited scope and power. It’s the relationship that holds the meaning.
Why would you think any differently about the stories of scripture? The words themselves, those strokes of ink, have limited scope and power. Your relationship to and with them, the stories they tell, and the God they/you attempt to understand (in human and messy and mistake-ridden ways) is what matters. And that does change everything.
And if one small stroke of ink changes everything, consider one small stroke (period) of God.
A shimmer. A sunrise. A smile. A story. A song. A stroke of genius. A stroke of brilliance. A stroke from a relevant-passionate-vibrant-alive-human-messy-real God that would change everything. That is what you’ll find when you come to this Text and this God. Pen (and precepts) held loosely. Questions on your lips and in your heart. Doubts that tremble. Hope that wavers. Desire aflame. Permission granted. And no Greek or Hebrew required (though it is helpful from time-to-time).
I recently made a few thousand small (key)strokes and wrote a post that surprised even me with its direction and intensity. A conversation between a story Pema Teeter told and the Eve I imagine and know. A delicious taste of textual interpretation. A delectable taste of just how relevant these stories remain. I’d love for you to read it and then tell me what you think, what you experience, what you feel. Even more, I’d love to be able to do the same with/for you. Here’s the link to Pema’s site.
One last thing: This Sunday, May 27, 2012, I will be talking with Pema during Sunday Services. 10:00 PST. One hour. Fabulous conversation. Pull up a pew. Join the congregation.
One more last thing (I mean it this time): I have a few spaces open for Spiritual Direction, beginning in June. This is the stuff (and strokes) of which we talk: stories, texts, promises, premises, doctrine, dogma, and a God who might just supersede every single experience and expectation. There are no prerequisites. No Sunday School lessons to recall or review. No verses to memorize. No rules to follow. No behavior to model. Just a spirituality to explore, pursue, and hunger after. And if you want, done via writing. One small (key)stroke changes everything. Learn more.